Chase Elliott was about sixty seconds, or two laps away from becoming the first Elliott to visit victory lane in one of NASCAR’s most prestigious events, the Coca-Cola 600.
Chase, the driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, carries the No. 9 on his NASCAR Cup Series car, the number that his father carried on his car throughout the majority of his racing career. Bill, a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, was never able to visit victory lane in NASCAR’s longest race, recording a best finish of second on two separate occasions.
Everything looked to be in line for Elliott to earn his 7th career NASCAR Cup Series victory, after taking the lead from eventual race winner Brad Keselowski with thirty-seven laps to go, pulling away to a margin of nearly two seconds when the unthinkable happened.
The ninth caution of the evening, came out on lap 399, when Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron cut down a tire, sending him spinning onto the apron in Turn No. 1, sending the 61st annual Coca-Cola 600 into overtime.
The next step would prove to be a difficult, but crucial one for the No. 9 Team. The pit decision for Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson, having to decide between staying out on forty lap old tires, or hitting pit road and getting new tires, resulting in a major loss of track position, which had been crucial all night long. Elliott decided to hit pit road, but eight drivers, including Hendrick Motorsports’ teammates Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson stayed on the race track.
“You just make the best decision you can, based on the information you have. When you are leading the race like that, people behind you are going to do the exact opposite of what you do. That was the situation we were put in. Al[an] made the decision, we stuck with it, and it didn’t work out. – Chase Elliott
The 24-year old found himself restarting in the fifth row, knowing it would be a near impossible task for Elliott to get his NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet into victory lane. Elliott was able to rebound to score a third place finish [OFFICIALLY, Chase will finish second after teammate Jimmie Johnson failed post-race technical inspection], scoring his third top-five of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season.
“It’s very unfortunate. I hate it for both myself and my team, our sponsors, the whole nine yards, unfortunate. But it is what it is. Can’t help it. Those things happen, so… I’ve watched a lot of races unfold that way. Unfortunate to be on that end of it. It’s one of those deals.” – Chase Elliott
What makes the loss even more disappointing for Elliott, is the fact that, twice in the last five days, Elliott has been in position to potentially go to victory lane in the NASCAR Cup Series, only for it all to not work out late in the running. On Wednesday at Darlington Raceway, while battling for the lead, Chase Elliott was turned into the inside wall, relegated Elliott to a 38th place finish.
“Yeah, this week’s been pretty unfortunate. We’ve had some tough losses in my career, for however many years I’ve been doing this, five, six years, unfortunately. It is what it is”. – Chase Elliott
One bright side for Chase Elliott, the No. 9 team and Chase Elliott fans everywhere is that we return to the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Wednesday, for another NASCAR Cup Series race. Elliott proved tonight along with teammates Johnson, Byron & Bowman, that the Hendrick Motorsports team has shown immense speed, and are guaranteed to be contenders for the win on Wednesday.
But hey, there is always Tuesday Night’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Race, where Elliott will drive the No. 24 iRacing Chevrolet Silverado for GMS Racing.